China, looking at Taiwan, learns lessons from Ukraine’s fierce resistance


“The main surprise for Russia, which may well be the main lesson China learns, is the will of the Ukrainian people to fight,” said Bernard Cole, a retired US Navy captain and former professor at the National War. Middle School.

Russia’s experience also suggests that China would face swift and globally coordinated economic retaliation from the United States and its allies. Taiwan would also likely get military aid, such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that the allies send to Ukraine, and possibly direct intervention from US forces.

Still, analysts said Beijing, having seen Russia’s problems, was unlikely to give up the option of forcibly absorbing Taiwan. Instead, Russia’s slow progress shows the value of the crushing initial strikes that some analysts assume China would make in any assault on Taiwan.

“Chinese military thinking emphasizes rapid escalation with large degrees of force in the early stages of conflict, especially if you’re trying to get the other side to give in to negotiations over your position,” Oriana Skylar said. Mastro, expert on Chinese. military at Stanford University.

The US military is testing the Iron Dome in Guam. The WSJ’s Shelby Holliday got a first-hand look at the missile defense system, which came months after a top military chief called the island’s defenses unsuitable for threats from China. Photo: Adam Falk/The Wall Street Journal

The current war in Ukraine and any possible conflict over Taiwan are not perfect parallels, but the two situations are similar.

In each case, a great power wishes to control a neighboring territory with which it has close cultural, linguistic and historical ties. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long rejected Ukraine’s democratic base to exist as an independent Western-aligned nation, while the Communist Party of China has said Taiwan, a self-governing democratic island, should be governed from Beijing in the framework of China.

Beijing says force remains an option to absorb Taiwan. But unlike Mr Putin, who already seized parts of Ukraine in 2014, China has not seized any Taiwanese territory and given no concrete indication that it plans to invade.

China would start any invasion with an advantage over Russia: an even bigger and better equipped army. China has about a million ground troops, the largest navy in the world, and a military budget more than three times that of Russia and about 13 times that of Taiwan.

A naval exercise in Keelung, Taiwan, in early January.


Photo:

Ritchie B Tongo/Shutterstock

Taiwan has its own advantages over Ukraine. China is expected to conduct an amphibious assault through a 90-mile-wide sea channel, landing in heavily populated areas guarded by sea mines and coastal missile batteries. In contrast, most Russian soldiers invading Ukraine simply crossed the border on flat roads.

Assuming the Chinese invaders had gained a foothold in Taiwan, they would face a dilemma similar to that of Russia: how to seize power without destroying the place that communist propaganda describes as part of the homeland.

“If the invader cannot force surrender within the first three to four days, there is likely to be an overwhelming and prolonged campaign,” said Gabriel Collins of Rice University in Houston, who co- wrote a recent study on the political, economic and economic situation in China. military strategy.

Taiwan’s leaders say they are improving their preparedness for any invasion, which has sometimes been questioned by US strategists. Recent military spending plans have focused on weapons to repel an invading force such as the Harpoon anti-ship missiles. More rigorous training for the military reserve starting this month aims to give Taiwan a more effective and larger force to fight back.

Maj. Gen. Yu Wen-Zhen, an officer with the newly formed Taiwan Defense Mobilization Agency, said Wednesday that Taiwan was looking for lessons from the Ukrainian military.

“We see Ukrainians scrambling to fight for their country’s security and defend their homeland. We will continue to monitor the situation,” Maj. Gen. Yu said.

China, looking at Taiwan, learns lessons from Ukraine's fierce resistance

Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke at a military parade in Beijing in 2019. Beijing says force remains an option to absorb Taiwan.


Photo:

Jason Lee/REUTERS

His comments were unusual as both China and Taiwan expressed discomfort with the Ukraine analogy. Chinese government officials have repeatedly said there is no comparison because, in their view, it is already indisputable that Taiwan is part of China and can never be independent. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said shortly after Russia began its invasion that Taiwan was well prepared for any Chinese attack.

Grant Newsham, a former US Navy colonel who studies security in East Asia, said China would likely notice that Russia failed to spark an uprising of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. and others who might have sympathized with Moscow.

Beijing has long assumed that Taiwanese would want to unite with the mainland as China’s power and prosperity grow, but opinion polls show that Taiwanese feel their identity is separate from the mainland – analogous to the situation in Ukraine where most of the population wants to be independent from Russia.

Moscow’s inability to quickly topple Ukraine’s leadership would also be noted by Beijing, Mr Newsham said.

“Courageous leaders can rally people who were thought to be demoralized and ready to collapse. China may be underestimating Taiwan in this regard,” Mr Newsham said. “Rather than terrorizing them into submission,” an attack on the Taiwanese people “may indeed provoke greater resistance.”

While Washington has deliberately left ambiguity about its response to a war in Taiwan, many military analysts assume the US would step in directly to fight alongside Taiwan, something President Biden has ruled out in Ukraine. Washington could get help behind the front lines from the Japanese military and others.

American military bases in southern Japan, a few hundred kilometers from Taiwan, as well as the American Seventh Fleet, stationed near Tokyo, could allow a rapid intervention if the United States chose to defend Taiwan.

Ukraine’s experience also suggests that it would be possible to quickly assemble a global coalition to strike at the invader’s economy, although analysts say China’s much larger and more diversified economy compared to Russia could make it more able to withstand the sanctions.

Taken together, the lessons from Ukraine appear to offer a cautionary tale for Beijing’s leaders and could reduce the risk of them betting on an invasion of Taiwan. But Stanford’s Dr Mastro said Russia’s stumbles probably didn’t change the Chinese reckoning.

“I think the key thing for China is to hone their capabilities, especially with an amphibious invasion, and to make sure they have the confidence that once they decide ‘OK, we’re ready. from’, she leaves,” she said.

Write to Alastair Gale at [email protected]

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